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Lee County Historical Museum

Joshua Shiver, Auburn University
The Lee County Historical Museum, also known as Pioneer Park, in Loachapoka, Lee County, is a multi-exhibit historical museum whose mission is to share and preserve the heritage and traditions of Lee County. Founded and maintained by the Lee County Historical Society (LCHS), Pioneer Park explores the evolution of Lee County from its earliest period of Native American habitation through the arrival of pioneer settlers and into the turn of the twentieth century. The park is made up of nine separate structures that represent different periods in Lee County history, including the Old Trade Center, the Ruth Purdy Speake Cabin, the Taylor Whatley Building, the Blacksmith Shop, Dr. McLain's Office, the Loachapoka Gin Office, the Cook House, a reconstruction of the Loachapoka Jail, and the Bernard-Newell Log House.
The museum's main attraction is the Old Trade Center, which is the oldest commercial structure in Lee County. Because the railroad line ended in Loachapoka, the Old Trade Center was historically an important location for buying and selling merchandise in the area. Reflecting this, exhibits include various artifacts of items that were once sold in the building. Additionally, it provides a broad overview of the history of Lee County with a particular emphasis on Rousseau's Raid during the American Civil War and the story of how Loachapoka got its name. From the Old Trade Center, visitors can move throughout the park to various other original and reproduction period homes and businesses. Additionally, the Old Trade Center hosts weavers and spinners on the second Saturday of each month.
The Ruth Purdy Speake Cabin represents a typical nineteenth-century pioneer home of the region. Originally located in nearby Chambers County, the building was moved to its present location by the LCHS. The cabin contains a one-room school typical of the late nineteenth century. The Taylor Whatley Building, named for the LCHS board member who supervised its construction in the 1970s, displays the agricultural heritage of the area through artifacts related to mechanics, blacksmithing, dairies, and agricultural production. The nearby Blacksmith Shop is replica of a typical nineteenth century blacksmith shop from the area and serves as a biweekly meeting place for local blacksmiths, who demonstrate their craft with visitors. The McLain building was owned by Alexander McLain, a doctor who practiced medicine in nearby Salem, Lee County, from 1902 until 1956. The building recreates his practice as well as a pharmacy, a soda fountain, and the old Salem post office.
The Loachapoka Gin Office (also known as the Ward Brothers Gin) was once the building used as the Town Hall for Loachapoka as well the local official polling place before it was eventually converted into a cotton gin. It was the only industry still left in the area when it burned down in 1969. The gin office and cotton scale have been fully restored and now provide a history of cotton production in the area. The nearby Cook House is used to prepare and serve meals during special events at the park, such as Second Saturday, Pioneer Day, and the Poarch Creek Festival. In 2015, the Lee County Historical Society combined its Syrup Sopping festival and its Pioneer Day historical fair that were once both hosted on the same day into one event. The Loachapoka Calaboose recreates the local jail, which fell into ruin and was eventually restored by volunteers in 2008. The exterior has been rebuilt, but the interior doors and bars are from the original jail. The Bernard-Newell Log House was built around 1830 and is the second-oldest log cabin in the state. It is furnished with artifacts and replica furniture from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that likely would have been found in most Creek or American homes in the 1830s.
The museum also includes several gardens. The Crops Garden demonstrates field crop production from the late 1800s and the McLain Garden showcases culinary and medicinal herbs commonly grown by McLain. Grandma's Garden contains a collection of plants and flowers that would have been grown in a typical backyard flower garden a century ago. Additionally, near the Barnard-Newell Log House is the "Native American Garden" which consists of corn, beans, and squash and represent the "Three Sisters" of crops cultivated by Creek Indians who lived in the area before removal.
On the second Saturday of every month, historical reenactors gather at the museum to share period arts and crafts with visitors while blacksmiths work the forges, gardeners toil in the gardens, and spinners and weavers produce textiles. The museum is open Wednesday through Fridays from 12:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Published:  July 25, 2018   |   Last updated:  July 25, 2018